11 Amazing Things to Do in Iceland

Up until around 20 years ago, Iceland was off the map for most globe trekkers. By 2019, the second-largest European island has become one of the top-rated bucket list travel destinations for millions of people. With so many things to do in Iceland and a beautiful Icelandic backdrop, it’s hard to know where to begin! Iceland has a fascinating landscape that is unlike anything else in the world. From lush greenery to majestic waterfalls, from volcanoes to geysers, from natural hot springs to glaciers, Iceland is an outdoor lover’s paradise.  Modern houses with grass roofs, sheep darting around the fields, crisp air, plentiful organic food, and clear glacier water from the tap all contribute to making you feel like you are on another planet. 

Due to its low population, most of Iceland appears almost deserted. Before the pandemic, annual visitors outnumbered its inhabitants by three times to one. With a 75% decrease in the number of visitors due to the pandemic, I decided to take my dream trip to Iceland without the crowds. The outdoorsy nature of my planned activities and the need to rent a car to get to my destinations made this wonderful road trip both safe and enjoyable.

Finding Things to Do in Iceland

The best time to visit this Nordic gem depends on what you’re after. The peak season is between June and August. Summertime offers the mildest weather, the most daylight, and the greatest number of activities available. Recently, the winter months have also become popular with the opportunity to explore ice caves, hunt for northern lights, and enjoy various snow activities. 

The average length of stay in Iceland is around seven days. Shorter trips are also possible but won’t give you enough time to really explore beyond Reykjavik and the west coast. Within nine to ten days, you can cover all of Iceland via its famous ring road without feeling rushed. Below is a selection of my favourite things to do in Iceland. 

1. Explore City Life

Reykjavik — the capital and largest city of Iceland is home to 2/3 of the entire population of the island. The city is so small that its center can be easily explored by foot. It is dotted with vintage Norden houses with bright tin roofs, ultra-modern glass towers, hilly streets with impressive statues, colorful street art, and relics of its Viking and medieval past. Reykjavik’s gorgeous waterfront faces stunning coastal landscapes across the bay, adding to its charm. 

The most famous landmark of the city is Hallgrímskirkja. This church’s piercing tower acts as an observation deck, giving a panoramic view of the city.

2. Immerse Yourself in Hot Springs

Iceland is well known for its hot springs and geothermal pools. Some will cost you (for example, the Blue Lagoon) but others are completely free. Finding a hot spring is one of those can’t-miss things to do in Iceland. 

The Blue Lagoon is by far the most famous and popular hot spring in the country. The pale blue, milky waters are full of rich minerals and elements such as silica and algae and have a pleasantly warm temperature against the cold air. Although the lagoon is a byproduct of a geothermal plant, it is still a beautiful place to visit. For the most enjoyable experience, be sure to make your reservation well in advance and ask for the earliest time available to avoid the crowds. 

If you prefer a more organic and rawer version (not to mention free), I recommend Reykjadalur Valley and Seljavallalaug. Both places require some hiking but the landscape along the way is so picturesque that you’ll arrive before you know it. 

The Reykjadalur Steam Valley is a river full of hot springs and mud pits. You can “adjust” the temperature of the water to your liking by moving closer to the hot or cold water source. There are wooden platforms where you can change into your swimwear. The farther end of the platform tends to be warmer and less crowded. 

The Seljavallalaung 

The Seljavallalaung is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland. You will find it in a narrow valley, built into the side of the mountain. It sports truly breathtaking surroundings. The hot water that flows into it is completely natural and the mountainside acts as the fourth wall of the pool. The hottest water is by the side of the pool opposite the changing rooms. 

3. Check Out How High Geysers Are Blowing

The most active geyser in Iceland is Stokkur. Its eruptions usually measure 15-20 meters (49-66 feet) high and typically go off every six to ten minutes. The opportunity to get so close to this geyser was one of the highlights of my trip. 

4. Cruise the Turquoise Ice Lagoon

The Jokursalon glacier lagoon is a lake filled with melted glacier water. The lagoon owes its fame to the blue, white, and turquoise icebergs that break off the edge of the glacier and settle in its waters. At the water’s edge, they are several dozen meters high but they slowly melt into the lagoon before drifting out to the sea. For those who would like to get closer to the icebergs, I highly recommend booking a glacier tour boat. These small zodiac boats can get very close to the glacier. During the excursion, you will ride past the huge icebergs populated by colonies of seals and seabirds.  

Where the glacier lagoon empties into the ocean, you will find Diamond Beach. This beach is famous for its numerous blocks of crystal-clear ice deposited on black sand. Being able to feel, sit, or even lie on the crystal-like glaciers was an amazing experience and certainly one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

5. See the Rainbow Above the Waterfall

Iceland is a land of waterfalls. You will be able to find them in practically every part of the island. Its distinctive shape, enormous power, and the rainbow that often appear above are some of the reasons why Gullfoss is one of the most visited waterfalls in Iceland. 

The unique feature of Seljalandfoss is that you can walk behind it. Prepare for a sensory overload: the mist of the water on your skin, the sight of the sun setting through the falling water, and the crash of the river as it falls to the rocks below. 

Just 500 meters away from Seljalandfoss, you will find another stunning hidden gem of Iceland — Gljúfrabúi. Its entrance is a narrow crevice that opens up to reveal a waterfall pummeling a small pool right at your feet. With rock cliffs surrounding the pool, this is one of the most intimate waterfalls of Iceland. Prepare to get wet since you will be walking through a small stream and mist will be everywhere.

Skógafoss is an impressive example of nature’s power. You can walk right up to it if you’re willing to get drenched. Standing next to it and feeling its sheer force felt overwhelming. Due to the amount of mist produced by the spectacle, rainbows (or double rainbows) appear on sunny days. 

The black waterfall, Svartifoss, is considered one of the most unique waterfalls in the world. Its walls are lined with dark basalt pillars whose columns were created by cooling lava. 

Many consider Dettifoss as the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Mist from the falls is visible from several miles away. Surprisingly, it can’t be heard until you get close. There is a good observation deck that overlooks this monument, but I personally preferred the view from below. 

6. Find Out How Volcanoes Work

One of the top things to do in Iceland is to see an active volcano. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to experience it. The giant Fagradalsfjall volcano’s eruption started in March but had fallen dormant by the time I arrived. Magnificent crater and freshly-made lava formations are still spectacular to see on their own. The view from the volcano’s top is also well worth the hike.  

7. Explore the Plane Wreck

One of the stranger Icelandic attractions is the US Navy plane wreck. This plane has been lying on an empty beach since 1973. The wreck is not fenced or guarded at all. Anyone can approach it and climb inside. If you’ve ever dreamt about being in a retro sci-fi movie, this place is definitely for you. 

8. Hike to the Canyon

Studlagill Canyon is one of Iceland’s largest collections of basalt columns. The color of the river that bisects the canyon will be different depending on the time of the year. Sometimes it has an azure color and is very transparent. Other times it turns brown and muddy. Although not easy to get to, I highly recommend it to those who like to go off the beaten path. Prepare to hike for about five km through relatively untouched terrain, steep paths, and slippery rocks and stones. In my opinion, words can’t describe the beauty of this place. 

9. Visit One of the Most Famous Black Sand Beaches

Black sand, volcanic cliffs, majestic rock formations protruding from the water, sneaker waves, geometric columns, and grottos — you will find it all in one place on Reynisfjara Beach. As with many natural wonders in Iceland, volcanic activity crafted this dramatic beauty. This was by far one of the most unique and wild beaches I have ever seen and is one of the best things to do in Iceland. 

10. Discover Geothermal Areas

Hverir is a geothermal area with bubbling mud springs, sulfuric steam spewing from vents, and colorful pools. To enjoy this “alien” landscape, you will have to endure the stench of rotten egg fumes. Those who’ve been to Yellowstone might not be impressed, but in my opinion, it’s still a fantastic Icelandic natural wonder. 

11. Enjoy a Scenic Drive

Whether you stay on the main ring road that goes around the island or venture to smaller routes, Iceland is the place for scenic drives. Its diverse and colorful natural miracles help you focus on the journey, not the destination. 

Bon Voyage!

P.S. Don’t be surprised to see sheep crossing highways and walking freely everywhere. They’ve been known to take over roads and aren’t afraid of cars. But they are shy in front of cameras! 😊

P.P.S. Rent a four-wheel-drive if you plan to get off the ring road to explore. Many “highways” are unpaved gravel roads.

One of the sheep who wandered near the road.

Roundup of Our Best Articles of 2019

It’s that time of year, where we post our winter round-up best articles of 2019. If you remember from our summer round-up series, you, our readers, decided our top five pieces.  Some of our writers have made it back for our final review, the best blog posts of 2019.

This year we have seen a variety of ideas from our writers. Some members from our Travel Abroad team wrote about places like Iceland, Mexico City, as well as Kuwait City, just to name a few. Our Teach Abroad members have provided resources on teaching in the USA, abroad, and online. In addition, they have given guidance on how to get abroad through pre-departure tips (do’s and don’ts). We are especially proud of our Study Abroad team’s inaugural year. We certainly have a great group who started this year and they shared guidance on many different ideas pertaining to studying abroad, the steps to take, tips on scholarships, and finding the best study program that fits your goals.

Finally, our community, you, have read a year’s worth of content. Based on what and how many times you read it, here is what you decided as Dreams Abroad’s Best Articles of 2019.

Teaching ESOL, Spanish, and Online Classes in the United States

spanish esl teacher teaching in the us

Leesa Truesdell’s interview with Caroline Hazelton made the “best of” list in June. It kept its spot as one of the top five articles of 2019. In this interview, Caroline spoke in detail about the differences in teaching English as Foreign Language (TEFL) online, teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL), and teaching Spanish to non-speakers with mostly American backgrounds in the USA. She gave an especially great piece of advice to all learners from different cultures: “Be patient and get out of your comfort zone!” 

This piece covers content ranging from cultural identity to Noam Chomsky’s theory of “universal grammar” that states humans have an innate ability to learn languages. Additionally, she talks about the struggles international students face while in the USA and touches on her own personal development as a teacher. She provides tips and guidance on what she has done differently over the years. This interview is a must read for teachers in any profession. Caroline has been teaching languages for many years and is a fourth-generation teacher. We can see why this interview is in our top five viewed.  

How Did I Get to Thailand to Teach?

Emma Higgins discusses the reasons she chose to move to Thailand after graduation with an English Literature degree from the University of South Carolina. She doesn’t recall what exactly made her think Thailand, but remembers seeing a friend who taught in Bangkok, Thailand and remembered thinking that she could do it. 

buddha statue

In this piece, Emma provides guidance on how she researched teaching in Thailand. She explains that the more she researched, the more it undeniably confirmed her desire to travel abroad and live a life in Thailand. Emma suggests doing the proper research before traveling abroad because of the different visa types offered in Thailand. 

In addition, this article provides guidance on how to book a ticket to get to Thailand and suggests how to prepare before you arrive. Emma explains that the most difficult part about the “how do I get to Thailand to teach” is deciding to come.  

Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Iceland Travels A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

Amanda Whitten talks about her recent Iceland travels with her friend throughout the northwest part of Iceland. Amanda discusses the unquestionably impressive landscape and epic paths she travels with her friend in their rental jeep, providing pointers for your next trip to Iceland. During her Iceland travels, she takes you on a play-by-play of her trip through the fjords, past the volcanic lava fields and into the next leg of her six-day adventure. Amanda emphasizes things she would do again and things she would not do again. This is a very helpful piece for anyone looking to travel to Iceland and roadtrip in the summer by Jeep. 

Pre-Departure Teaching English in Seoul, South Korea

 

epik teach English Program in Korea

Zoe Ezechiels interviewed Paige Miller in a two-part interview. Paige graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University in August of 2018. While at the university, Paige was an active part of the Korean American Student Association. Her cultural interests both in Korean culture and teaching inspired her to apply to Epik, a Korean (TEFL) recruiter.  

Because of her interests in both Korean culture and teaching, Paige decided on teaching English in Korea after graduation. In February 2019, she began to teach in Seoul, South Korea at Seoul Dongho Elementary School. Zoe’s interview explains her pre-departure process of teaching English in South Korea. She provides insight and pointers from Paige, who is still living in South Korea. 

Top Kuwait Tourist Attractions

Dalal Boland is a Ph.D. student from Kuwait City, Kuwait. Dalal lives in Tampa, Florida. She will return to her home country to teach at a university once she completes her Ph.D. Dalal is extremely proud of her home country and birthplace. In this piece, she explains the top Kuwait tourist attractions. Dalal notes that Kuwait is a small country but lists some of its most dazzling tourist attractions. Check out her recommendations.

Kuwait Towers Best Blog Posts of 2019

Thank You for Reading Our Best Articles of 2019

We thank you for reading, commenting, and being part of our best articles of 2019! We have seen an influx of comments coming in on our content. It’s been particularly great to see the engagement — we enjoy collaborating with our community. Thank you for reading and influencing our best articles of 2019. Please continue to give us feedback throughout 2020 so that we can understand the content and ideas you enjoy reading most. Thanks again and may you continue to live your dreams abroad!

by Leesa Truesdell

Iceland Travels: A Land of Nonchalant Spectacularity 

I know that I say this a lot, but I really liked insert name of place here and would definitely visit again and/or live there. But, seriously, no joke. Iceland will make you want to give it all up and go become a sheep farmer. At least, that’s the effect it had on me.

iceland travels mountain ridges

Taking into account that I went during the summer, which was still very chilly and sometimes downright cold, my Iceland travels really were the most breathtaking that I have ever done. The thing that really struck me as unique about Iceland was that almost anywhere the eye settled, there was almost always something interesting or impressive to see. This could be anything from the moss-covered rocks in the lava fields, the shadow-laden mountains, or the fjords that frequently decorated the landscape. If I had stopped to take pictures every time I wanted to, I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

I spent only about six days in Iceland and therefore, only saw a fraction of what I would have liked to make time for. I’ve chosen to think of it as more of a reconnaissance mission for a future trip. What follows next are a few pointers that I can give you through my trial and error method of traveling in addition to describing the extra-intriguing things that I saw during my — you guessed it — Iceland travels.

waterfall

Getting Started in Iceland

My Iceland travels were such extraordinary experiences for me not just because of the destination but because of the method of traveling. In an effort to save money, I opted to rent a Jeep with a camper on top instead of paying for hostels or Airbnbs. This also had the added benefit of flexibility since camping sites were significantly cheaper and were never full. All of the camping sites I visited had hot showers, covered areas where we could cook in cases of bad weather, and were usually very scenic.

My friend and I arrived to Iceland at about 1:00 a.m. The car rental place, Northern Lights Car Rental (through a third party platform called Northbound), let us sleep in their parking lot until we were rested enough to move on. Also, they threw in an extra sleeping bag at no extra cost. We thought we could cut corners by using only one. This was a bad idea as Iceland was much colder than the Internet led me to believe. I’m never believing the Internet about climate averages ever again. I’m looking at you, Internet people, who said Malta had the best climate in the world!

Heading Out for Iceland Travels

traveling in Iceland

The first thing that I noticed after setting out on that first morning west from Keflavik was the expansive lava fields. I saw what I thought was a white and black volcanic rock as far as the eye could see. Moss actually covered the white rock. The moss became very green by the end of the trip when we returned the Jeep. It rains in Iceland. A lot.

Iceland rocks and westfords

The next day we headed north to the Westfjords. It really started to sink in just how special Iceland is. We drove along the coast and I couldn’t believe how green it all was. Landforms like plateaus and mountains shone in the water and half-wild, half-domesticated shaggy sheep dotted the countryside. Houses were picturesque and belonged in paintings, not in real life. Waterfalls were plentiful as well and there was a glacier, Snæfellsjökull, that could be seen from the ocean shore.

Iceland Travels to the Westfjords

Westfjords sheep

Going into the Westfjords was important to me. I found while researching that the fjords present some of the most incredible views of Iceland. Nonetheless, people don’t visit often. During winter, many fjords can’t be accessed because the roads are completely closed. In the summer it’s not so much of an issue. Nonetheless, let me just warn you now… if you plan on going into the fjords, you need to mentally fortify yourself. Besides this, rent a vehicle with 4×4 capabilities!

Terror on the Cliffs

We went during the summer when the roads were fairly decent. Nonetheless, we drove for many miles on end at extremely high altitudes. We were right along intensely steep cliffs. There were no guardrails to protect you from rolling down into the rocky coast below. Just when I thought that I was getting accustomed to driving under those unnerving conditions, I happened to look over and down to my left to see an upside down car all the way at the bottom which had crashed only minutes before. We stopped and got out to help. Miraculously enough, the two locals who had crashed survived with only a few bloody cuts. Talk about a shitty reality check.

car crash off ridge
(Upside down crashed car. Was wayyyy more of a drop off than it looks like in this photo)

 

I realized while in the Westfjords that one could spend their entire trip just exploring that section of Iceland. It is expansive and mysterious and wild. There are few roads and even fewer places to get supplies. Some of my favorite things that we saw while there were puffins. I also saw a gigantic waterfall named Dynjandi. Plus, I was able to experience a hot spring carved into solid rock located right on the beach. Talk about some serious Iceland travels!

puffins

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is probably the most touristy thing that you can do in Iceland. The name itself tends to imply that there are amazing sights to see frequently. Don’t get me wrong. Iceland is so incredibly amazing at all times (and I’m not even being hyperbolic here). It’s pretty easy to become difficult to impress after a short amount of time (like maybe a day of driving).

There were definitely a few majorly impressive things to see on the Golden Circle path. We saw a waterfall comparable to Niagara Falls as well as a geyser park similar to Old Faithful. We saw a gorgeous crater lake. Although we chose to skip it, the Blue Lagoon gets an honorable mention. The entire Circle takes hours and hours of driving just to see a few things. Their national maximum speed limit is 90 kph (55 mph) on paved roads. On dirt roads, it’s 80 kpm (49 mph). You won’t be traveling as rapidly as you might imagine. It was when we finished with the Golden Circle that we really came upon a true hidden treasure: the town of Hveragerði.

Golden Circle lake

 

lake and cave in Hveragerði.

town of hveragerði iceland

Hveragerði South Iceland

The day that we got done with the Golden Circle, my friend and I were tired, hungry, and soaked to the bone. Even so, we passed up a camping site that was extremely close. It had no covered cooking area so we decided on a much nicer one about an hour away. Fortunately, this one did have a covered cooking area, along with free wifi, cell phone charging centers, great reviews, and hot showers.

About a few minutes away on foot, there was a place where you could get in geothermal hot tubs and relax on the cheap. There was also a small geyser park a little further up the road. There, they sold delicious bread made with geothermal water. Plus, there were even hiking trails where you could see even more geysers in their natural habitat (not in the same place as the geyser park). However, none of that could compare to the most amazing experience of my life so far.

Hveragerði foggy ridge

At the end of a deceptively long, steep hike up a mountain shrouded mist and mystery was a hot, geothermal river. Yes, a terraced, hot and steamy river. Talk about crossing something off on your bucket list that you never knew was listed! I had always imagined getting to plop into a natural hot spring in the mountains. However, that vision had never included anything bigger than a large tub.

After that, not much could compare. We visited a couple of museums in order to kill time before my friend’s flight. I even tried a bit of Minke whale before mine. It was delicious by the way — but please don’t be too mad at me even though I know I probably deserve it.

Experiencing Iceland Travels

breakfast in icelandIceland was probably the most expensive place I have visited or ever will visit but I have to say that every penny, or well, krona, was worth it. It was extremely safe and I never felt in danger. Despite us being two women out in the wilds, I never felt creeped out. I could have gone by myself and been completely fine. Actually, on several occasions when we saw hitchhikers, many were also ladies.

I learned a lot of interesting facts from reading magazines at our campsites. I learned that the Icelandic minimum wage is about 2,400 euros a month. That sounds out of this world until you learn that it is taxed at a rate of 51 percent. Woowee! All in all, I look forward to going back and exploring the Southern and Eastern sides of Iceland. If the West and North paralyzed me with wonder for six days, I can only imagine how much more there is for me to see and experience in the other directions.

P.S. Don’t walk on the moss!

by Amanda Whitten